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Setting up

As the TIC-80 fantasy computer is an all-in-one creation and execution platform, setting up TIC-80 is very easy:

Just go to the https://github.com/nesbox/TIC-80/releases page

and download the package for your platform of choice (Windows, OSX, Linux and even Raspberry Pi).

Or if you are just curious you can just start doodling online at http://tic80.com/

Getting started

Most TIC-80 programs are coded using the Lua Scripting language. However it is possible to select different scripting language like javascript at the cost of a couple of bytes/characters like so (respectively for JavaScript, MoonScript, Wren, Fennel, Squirrel):

//script: js
-- script: moon
// script: wren
;; script: fennel
// script: squirrel

The main function used for updating the screen (and called 60 times a second) is the TIC() function, so this function is also a requirement for doing anything with graphics. Additionally you can also setup a sub=function SCN() that is called once per scanline at the costs of more bytes/characters.

Most animated effects will also need to use some kind of a timer, so you are likely to also use the built-in time() function or keep track of your time (t) yourself as well.. So a minimal setup would look something like this:

function TIC()t=time()
-- your effect code

See here to know how tic() is called in the different language supported by TIC-80.

A full overview of the TIC80 memory map and most common used function is available in this handy TIC80 cheatsheet, as well as the TIC80 wiki page.


Video display

The TIC-80 has a 240x136 pixel display with 16colors which can be accessed via a wide range of graphics functions or by writing directly to VRAM at memory address 0x0000 using the poke4 instruction, that just change 4 bits. The address have to be multiplied by 2 when using poke4. access to 0x1000 for example is 0x02000 (high nibble) and 0x02001 (low nibble).

Draw functions

There are a couple of built-in drawing functions you can use:

pix(x,y[color]) [-> color]
circ(x,y,r,color) -- filled circle
circb(x,y,r,color) -- border circle
rect(x,y,w,h,color) -- filled rect
rectb(x,y,w,h,color) -- border rect
print(text,x=0,y=0,color=15,fixed=false,scale=1,smallfont=false) -> width

Getting something on screen

Here is a bit of code to get you started:

function TIC() 
for y=0,136 do for x=0,240 do

Which will display an animated XOR pattern.

Color Palette

The best way to start is to use the default sweetie16 palette (https://lospec.com/palette-list/sweetie-16) as this palette offers a nice selection of 16 colors arranged in such a way that they are easily accessable. From the verion 0.9b version and beyond you can initialise the new default sweetie16 palette at startup by adding a 0x11 Chunk to your TIC-80 cartridge.

Normally a chunk would contain 4 bytes of header + data, but as this chunk has no data, it is possible to omit the extra 3 bytes of chunk-header if you place it at the end of your TIC cartridge. The new TIC-Packer linked below has the option to do this for you.

Setting your own color palette

Alternatively you can setup your own palette by writing to the palette area located at 0x3fc0 like so:

for i=0,47 do poke (0x3fc0+i,i*5)end

This produces a nice grayscale palette of 16 shades to work with.

Color index shuffling

If you don't want to use the sweetie16 palette you can revert back to the pre 0.8 db16 palette by simply not including a 0x11 chunk in you cartridge. Although the arrangement of color-indices is not as ideal as sweetie16, you can shuffle your color indices a bit to get 'somewhat workable' colors.

A couple of examples for this are

  • (color)&10 - Some grey/blue shade
  • ((color)&6)-3 - A Nice shade of Dark-cyan-white color
  • (color)^2 - A shade of brown/yellowish colors

But feel free to experiment yourself as well and let us know on discord if you find something cool.


The TIC-80 has soundregisters and 32 byte waveforms to access which are located at address 0FF9C in memory.

0FF9C SOUND REGS 72 18 byte x 4 ch
0FFE4 WAVEFORMS 256 16 wave/ 32x4b each
100E4 SFX 4224 64 sounds

Make some noise

The easiest way to get 'some' sound going is to bitbang the sound-registers and hope for the best, for example:

TIC=function()for i=0,71 do poke(65436+i,(time()/7.2)%64)end end

A more the "proper" way involves something like : define the waveform yourself (f.e. sawtooth), repeatedly (because for some reason one time is not enough), then write low part of the frequency to one byte, and the high nibble combined with the volume to another)

for i=0,31 do poke4(2*65438+i,i/2) end -- setup waveforem
-- write frequencies

But as you can see this costs considerably more bytes to setup.

Final Optimisations

When you are happy with your intro and want to get it ready for release, it becomes time to look at squeezing those last bytes. As a goal-post, you should always aim to have your uncompressed effect around the target size, and work from there.

Final optimisation can be done by stringing as much code together on single lines and removing any extra spaces and whitelines. A rule of thumb for this is that of the first or last character of a variable or function isn't a valid hex number (i.e. A-F) you can omit whitespace (so that: x=0 y=0 z=0 can become x=0y=0z=0)


For releasing an intro at a demoscene event, a raw TIC cartridge file without any additional graphics/sound/metadata is needed.

Creating a http://www.sizecoding.org/index.php?title=Fantasy_Consoles&action=edit&section=13 TIC cartridge file adds a 4 byte header + 1 extra byte for a 0x11 sweetie16 chunk.

Luckily there are various packers that help you convert your (LUA) Script to a empty TIC Cartridge with a single ZLIB compressed code block and optional 0x11 (sweetie16) palette chunk. See the additional links for links to these packers.

Exporting Video as Animated GIF

The TIC80 environment has a neat feature that lets you export your intro directly as an animated GIF file to converted to video later, by Pressing the F9 key to start and stop recording. However, there is a default recording limit capped to a fixed number of frames or seconds. You can change this in the tic80 config to a bigger number to match your recording-size.

If your intro is taking up too many resources and starts chugging a bit on your machine, it can be wise to make a version that steps through time lineary by adding a number to your t variable yourself instead of using the time() function.

Online version: Metadata and Thumbnail image

When uploading the intro to the TIC80 website for a playable online version, you will need to build a new TIC file with some added some meta-data and Thumbnail image (You can take this screenshot using the F7 key during the demo playback) and use this as you online version. The screenshot can also be imported from a 240×136 PNG (other size will throw an error) using inside TIC-80 console import screen file[.png].

The Meta data is added at the top of your intro as follows

-- title: My intro
-- author: scener
-- desc: my first sizecoded TIC-80 intro
-- script: lua (or moon/wren/js/fennel)

Update: As of version 0.9b the TIC80.COM website now also allows you to upload a seperate TIC file with the metadata and keep the uploaded binary TIC file as code only.

Additional Resources

Sizecoding on the TIC-80 is still in its infancy, but luckily there is already plenty of information to get you started!